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August 28, 2010

Katrina + 5 and Racial Violence: Like the Picture Wasn’t There the Whole Time?

“I came out of Katrina with one perspective on it. And there isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t talk to someone who survived it who gives me a different perspective than I had before.”

– Russel L. Honoré, the retired lieutenant general in charge of relief effort. From: Rumor to Fact in Tales of Post-Katrina Violence (NYT)

“Give credence”? A “different perspective”?

I’m not sure why this photo made the print edition (5 columns wide) and not NYT.com but it doesn’t need much analysis.  As a historical photo of the Katrina aftermath, the photo not only reinforces how blacks were hunted down and dominated by the New Orleans police but it elaborates the atmosphere in which African-American’s were stalked and killed by paranoid whites in the “better off” neighborhoods.

What’s most notable throughout the Times article, though, in marked contrast to this (print edition) photo, is the emphasis on what happened as uncommon knowledge — uncommon, that is, to the white corporate media and the military establishment that created a narrative of siege then waged war on the: “poor blacks and looters … murdering innocents and terrorizing whoever crossed their path in the dark, unprotected city.”

If we’re going to really look back at Katrina beyond just a reflexive anniversary exercise, then let’s be willing to examine not just what took place at the time, but also the lens we choosr to look through today. Writes The Times (bold mine):

Today, a clearer picture is emerging, and it is an … ugly one, including white vigilante violence, police killings, official cover-ups and a suffering population far more brutalized than many were willing to believe.

If this article is significant, it’s not for offering this powerful photo and putting the taste of the state’s racism in our mouths, as much as it is for the article’s defense of the military, the naive tone and the overemphasis on the mysterious ambiguity surrounding the racism, and the acknowledgment it took outfits like the local Times-Picayune newspaper and the non-profit ProPublica to set the record straight.

The photo, by Alex Brandon for the Times-Picayune, was taken on September 4, 2005.  The NYT caption reads: Lance Madison being arrested on Sept. 4, 2005, after a police shooting in New ORleans that killed two people, including Mr. Madison’s brother, Ronald.

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